Relevance of gender in the policy area

The European Union (EU) fisheries sector, the third largest in the world, provided approximately 6.6 million tonnes of fish in 2012. About 400,000 people in the EU have a full or part-time job in fishing and fish processing. EU fisheries policy promotes sustainable fish stocks and a sustainable marine ecosystem as a precondition for a competitive European fishing industry. Quotas for fishing have been established for each EU Member State to maintain sustainable fishing stocks. Each year these quotas are renegotiated based on changes in stocks.

Fishing and fish processing are male-dominated activities in Europe. Men provide the main labour on board fishing vessels, and the majority of fishing boats and aquaculture farms are owned by men. However, in most fishing communities women play a key role and make significant contributions to the industry. Despite their contribution, women remain largely invisible and their roles unacknowledged. Indeed, the statistics grossly underestimate the reality of women’s work in some of these sectors, and the widespread economic crisis in some Member States has led to a growing number of women engaging in activities in the fishing sector, particularly land-based shellfish gathering, as a means of complementing or ensuring their family income.

According to the European Parliament, in 2014 more than 100,000 women worked in the fisheries sector in Member States. Of these women, 4% work in the extractive sector and in jobs linked to the activities of fishing boats (as net makers, port workers or packers), 30% work in aquaculture (chiefly shellfish gathering on foot), and around 60% work in the processing industry.

Unfortunately, the existing statistical data shows employment within the fisheries sector only if this employment is declared and remunerated. There are many problems associated with the figures available for this visible employment. In addition to women whose status is declared and remunerative, there are many other ‘invisible’ women workers in the fisheries sector. This category includes spouses, life partners, mothers, sisters and daughters, who play an active role in family fishing or aquaculture enterprises. Unpaid work by women in support of fishing family enterprises has long been seen as significantly important. In some regions, it’s probably the major connection that women have with the fishing (i.e. fish capture) subsector. The types of activity in which women are involved range from what are clearly senior management tasks to basic administration (accounting, relations with banks, fisheries administration and organisations, etc.). In addition to this, women are responsible for childminding, household-management tasks and other support provided to a family fishing concern (especially when the husband or male partner is at sea).

All the above aspects are also reflected in the decision-making role women play in the fisheries sector. From the mid-1990s onwards, the spouses of those employed in the fisheries and aquaculture sector began to gather to form independent organisations. This trend continued into the first decade of this century. However, the initiatives undertaken by women’s associations vary from country to country and depend on the financial support they receive.

Gender inequality in the fisheries sector is influenced by a set of factors, which are as follows:

  • participation of women and men in fisheries subsectors
  • women’s invisible work in the fisheries sector
  • women’s participation in decision-making.

Issues of gender inequalities in the policy area

Gender equality policy objectives at eu and international level

Policy cycle in maritime affairs and fisheries

Click on a phase for details

How and when? ‘Maritime Affairs and Fisheries’ and the integration of the gender dimension into the policy cycle

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle visit EIGE's Gender mainstreaming platform.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into research policy. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.

Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in maritme affairs and fisheries


The key milestones in EU fisheries policy are presented below.

Current policy priorities in the fisheries sector at EU level

At fisheries level the most important priority is the implementation of the new common fisheries policy (CFP) and the financial aid  – European maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF) – related to this policy. The new CFP has been effective since January 2014. The European Commission is supervising the preparation of the national strategic plans and the operational programmes related to the fund. The EMFF, as all the other development funds, have been operational since the beginning of 2015.

The CFP’s four main policy areas are:

  1. Management of fish stocks: the aim is to ensure high long-term fishing yields for all stocks by 2015 where possible, and at the latest by 2020. This is referred to as the maximum sustainable yield. Another increasingly important aim is to reduce unwanted catches and wasteful practices to the minimum or avoid them altogether. The management will be more focused on regionalisation and stakeholder consultation. Fisheries management can take the form of input control, output control or a combination of both (European Commission, DG MARE, 2014b).
  2. Alignment with international policy: European fishing boats currently catch more than 25% of the fish outside EU waters. Around 8% of these catches (2004 – 2006) are made under fishing agreements with countries outside the EU, while another 20% are taken on the high seas, mainly in regions under the care of regional fisheries management organisations. Alignment with the Law of the Sea and International Fisheries Law and good governance in the global fisheries sector includes close cooperation with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations system, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) (European Commission, DG MARE, 2014c).
  3. Market and trade: sustainability and self-regulation by the stakeholders in the sectors are important elements of the new market and trade policy in fisheries.
  4. The funding of the policy: the EMFF has a budget of around €5.749 billion for the period 2014 – 2020. It will support the rebuilding of fish stocks and the progressive elimination of wasteful discarding. Priorities for the new fund are improving fisheries data collection – allowing decisions to be based on robust evidence – and reducing the impact of fisheries on the marine environment. It will also focus on fisheries control programmes to ensure that the rules on responsible and sustainable fishing are complied with. The EMFF will also focus on the integrated maritime policy by investing in identifying and addressing barriers that hinder growth in coastal communities and emerging maritime sectors (European Commission, DG MARE, 2014e).

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